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(History Channel)   On this day in history, in 1861, the Battle of Ball's Bluff took place, earning a place in the list of great defeats in history and serving as an important reminder of why you never bluff with certain body parts   (history.com) divider line
    More: Vintage, American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, General George McClellan, President Abraham Lincoln, Battle of Ball, West Virginia, war's first martyr, command of Colonel Edward Baker  
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1718 clicks; posted to Main » on 21 Oct 2021 at 5:50 PM (6 weeks ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



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2021-10-21 6:02:13 PM  
"...in which Union Army forces under Major General George B. McClellan suffered a humiliating defeat. "

I bet!  Also why is WV tagged in this...?
 
2021-10-21 6:12:27 PM  
I thought we were still anguished over the Battle of Bowling Green?
 
2021-10-21 6:37:06 PM  
Political appointees made the worst generals.
 
2021-10-21 6:39:23 PM  
And yeah, Baker didn't get a general's star before getting killed, but what the hell was a sitting senator who hadn't seen military service in 15 years doing with a field command?
 
2021-10-21 6:49:33 PM  

UNC_Samurai: And yeah, Baker didn't get a general's star before getting killed, but what the hell was a sitting senator who hadn't seen military service in 15 years doing with a field command?


"Up or out" wasn't a thing back then.  Neither were military pensions.   There wasn't a big standing army, so if you were were a senior regular army officer doing nothing was a pretty good gig and if you quit the gig there was nothing, no matter how long you had been doing it.   Some of Zach Taylor's generals were so old they could barely walk, but they kept doing it because they'd be destitute if they didn't.

The outcome of this was that promotion was slow.  Spots were rare.   Someone basically had to die for a billet to open up.
 
2021-10-21 6:51:51 PM  

UNC_Samurai: And yeah, Baker didn't get a general's star before getting killed, but what the hell was a sitting senator who hadn't seen military service in 15 years doing with a field command?


Back then, with the right connections, you could become a Colonel simply by raising a militia regiment and getting them accepted into Federal service.
 
2021-10-21 7:50:04 PM  
UNC_Samurai
Political appointees made the worst generals.


Conversely, oftentimes generals make the worst politicians.
 
2021-10-21 8:08:49 PM  
Damn that long ago? Seems like it was only a few years.

Did he get help soonish?
 
2021-10-21 8:18:13 PM  
I get how it happened, I'm well-versed in the command structure of The Old Army.

But this was a federal army that had decades of experience knowing the militia system was worthless (that's why regiments were raised and immediately federalized as volunteers, bypassing the state militia structure), Winfield Scott wrote at length about how the militias farked him over when he crossed into Canada.  Hell, he practically blamed his capture on their structural and behavioral failings. Well, them and Henry Dearborn.  But again, prior experience with politicians trying to play general.

Other than offering ridiculously short contracts - which was a universal "this will be a short war" myopia - the Federal government had a pretty good handle on how to recruit and amass an army.   But that did not extend to the command cadre.  So you get guys like Baker, Sickles, Banks, and Butler.

I think there were two main reasons the Army put up with the shiat they did for so long.  First was having a Secretary of War who was corrupt as shiat.  Cameron didn't care as long as he was getting his cut, and until Lincoln finally replaced him with Stanton, they couldn't clean up the political side of the institution.

The second biggest problem, was how little operational experience the Old Army retained between Mexico and 1861.  You had a grand total of three guys in all of America, north or south, with experience commanding anything larger than a brigade.  Scott, who was old and fat, completely unsuitable for a field command.  John Wool, who was older than Scott (but still in decent shape), and his main contribution is keeping Forts Monroe and Wool (named for him later) in Union hands.  And then there's the youngest of the group, merely in his mid-60s at the start of the war.

So there's a desperation that the Federal Army is willing to take ANYONE at the start of the war who thinks they can lead a formation.  But man, that was so not a good decision.

/And their experience with shiatty generals with political immunity like Sickles, was one of the myriad reasons the Root Reforms happened.
 
2021-10-21 8:48:08 PM  

UNC_Samurai: The second biggest problem, was how little operational experience the Old Army retained between Mexico and 1861.  You had a grand total of three guys in all of America, north or south, with experience commanding anything larger than a brigade.  Scott, who was old and fat, completely unsuitable for a field command.  John Wool, who was older than Scott (but still in decent shape), and his main contribution is keeping Forts Monroe and Wool (named for him later) in Union hands.  And then there's the youngest of the group, merely in his mid-60s at the start of the war.


Run down the list of lieutenants and captains in the Mexican American war and compare it with general officers in the civil war. The Venn diagram converges a lot.

Prior to Bull Run everyone thought the civil war was going to be a ninety day kerfuffle, too.
 
2021-10-21 8:55:03 PM  
Right, but they were still line or staff officers in the MexAm.  They had combat experience, but not leading large formations of troops.  Coordinating large movements across an entire division was a very specific skill, and it was more or less lost 15 years later.
 
2021-10-22 4:32:40 AM  
SO NEGATIVE.  If it's a great defeat, surely it's also a great victory?
 
2021-10-22 12:07:52 PM  

UNC_Samurai: Right, but they were still line or staff officers in the MexAm.  They had combat experience, but not leading large formations of troops.  Coordinating large movements across an entire division was a very specific skill, and it was more or less lost 15 years later.


Sorta.   It is a different world today than it was back then, primarily because there was no standing army.  The militia system was how it was supposed to work, so regular army officers were rare.  We would have a war, raise regiments and commission the guy that raised it.   West Point only graduated around 35 to 40 officers a year, and as I mentioned, the vast majority of those officers were going to serve their time and then resign their commission.   "Career army officer" was a crappy job with little chance of a future.   Just as an example of how small the army was, in 1830 Congress debated closing West Point.  That went on for almost a decade, into Grant's tenure there, and only stopped once the Civil War started.

"Career staff officers" weren't really a thing.
 
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